Awb Scandal - Bad Apples or Bad Barrels?

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Executive Summary

Organisational factors or ‘bad barrels’ are said to have instigated many occurrences of corporate corruption and deviant behaviour (Wharton 2002, p 2), involving large numbers of active or passive participants; these are ‘rarely the result of a few bad apples’ (Murphy 2007, p 7). The AWB case is a clear example of corporate culture and other systemic failures influencing and defining an organisation’s decision making and its ethical posture.

This report addresses the underlying organisational causes of the AWB scandal, whereby AWB paid kickbacks to Iraq in defiance of the rules of the Oil-for-Food programme, instituted by the United Nations (Cole 2006) In so doing, it will consider the evidence and conclusions presented in the Cole inquiry, a Royal Commission established to investigate the conduct of several Australian companies in relation to the program.

The questionable Utilitarian approach of ‘seeking the greatest good for the greatest number of people’ (Kay 1997, p 1) assumed by AWB itself and its Board, is analysed in this report. It draws attention to the underlying shortcomings in both corporate governance and culture, which play a significant role in allowing or precluding the occurrence of unethical activities. Further, the inaction from DFAT and Australian government in investigating claims against AWB highlights the systemic failures that permitted AWB’s unethical behaviour.

The key causes of and influences on unethical behaviour ascertained from this report are: •An organisation’s strong profit driven demand to meet financial or business objectives, promoting tolerance for illegal acts •A culture of ‘getting the job done’ (Overington 2006, p 1), where corrupt acts are justified under the proviso that the greatest good will be achieved for the company •Lack of control mechanisms and moral agents in both corporate and public sector governance, and •The dominance and control of organisation’s operating as a monopoly; allowing illegal acts to become routine.

On reflection, it can be seen that organisations need to be accountable for the conduct of their employees and all business decisions and outcomes. Therefore, the provision of relevant control mechanisms is pertinent in order to maintain an ethical climate and instil a culture of openness, transparency and accountability. The opportunity to engage in unethical behaviour can also be limited through formal codes of ethics policies and rules that are adequately enforced by governing systems and bodies. Managing and preventing workplace scandals by implementing effective strategies can help to induce organisations into ‘better barrels’.

This report explores the AWB scandal, a multifaceted case involving a series of events that took place from 1999 to 2003 in relation to the United Nations (UN) Oil for Food Programme. It analyses the organisation-level ethical failures that contributed to this scandal. The Australian Wheat Board, initially a government statutory body, attempted to undermine sanctions endorsed by the UN’s Oil for Food Programme, by compensating the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq through illicit payments of over $A300 million, which contravened the programme’s intent (Bartos 2006, p 2). These kickbacks began while the Australian Wheat Board was under government control; with the illegal activity continuing after the organisation was privatised in 1999, known simply as the AWB (Cole 2006). Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the UN established economic sanctions against Iraq in order to alleviate the ‘enormous suffering on the common people of Iraq’ (Bartos 2006, p 3). Through the programme known as ‘Oil for Food’, money could be raised by the Iraqi government through sales of oil and exchanged for basic living supplies such as food and medication via a UN escrow account. How and why did this scandal occur? Can the problems be pinpointed to fraudulent and corrupt individuals or...
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